At a moment in time where the state’s highest offices are rife with sexual abuse scandals, Louisiana elects first female republican to Congress
Julia Barnhill Letlow! Let that name sink in for a moment, because soon enough we are going to start seeing it in the history books. Louisiana elected Julia Letlow as its first republican Congresswoman. She is the first in Louisiana’s history. Those of us who know Julia had no doubt that she could and would do it, but her path to victory was rather non-traditional. Most players in Louisiana’s political world ascend to positions of power by starting on a local level first, and through a series of elections ascend to higher and higher offices, perhaps finally to a larger area like a congressional district. Most of those political players tend to be men who grew up thinking about their political futures and which office they would seek. Discussions about their future tend to be with their family and are clear about their path forward. For women, especially in Louisiana, that path is not usually laid out and it certainly is not expected by our culture. That’s why Julia’s ascent to Congress is incredible in so many ways.
Julia’s husband Luke had just recently been elected to represent District 5 in Congress. As most are aware, Luke tragically passed away from COVID-19 before he was sworn in. This left a big hole for Julia especially considering that they have two very young children. In those days and weeks after Luke passed away, a decision needed to be made to fill Luke’s seat. An amazing decision was made. Julia decided to run. As I type this, it still gives me chills. Such an extraordinary person making such an extraordinary decision: A decision to show her children that through faith and her belief in Christ, we can overcome many obstacles and we can rise above the ashes like a phoenix from the flames. During one of our recent Campaign Conversations, Julia told us that you can be “Full of grief and full of hope at the same time.” Wow. If you talk to Julia, you pick up on how extraordinary she is right away. We should celebrate this characteristic. But in true Louisiana political fashion, not everyone could see the extraordinary picture.
There were the at-first-quiet, and then very public comments criticizing that Julia shouldn’t be running because of her young children. Let me ask a question: Are these comments made when men run for office? In Julia’s distinctive grace, she brushed those comments off and leaned on her faith knowing she made a decision after many discussions and much thoughtful prayer.
If you take a moment to consider reality, telling someone else when to run for office or not and why (especially based on the private matters of their family!) is inappropriate. But thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, the endless scroll of social media, and our cancel culture, we believe we have a right to an opinion about everyone else’s decisions, and that it’s our right to be offended when we disagree. And Louisiana culture typically disagrees with center-right women in office in Louisiana.
This opinionated, offended posture is part of our culture that we must take on in our state. Women belong in all of the places where decisions are made. Why? For one, the headlines should make you sick. Louisiana is home to a deeply flawed and pervasive culture not with just your run-of-the-mill misogyny, but we have now seen rampant cases of sexual harassment and abuse at the highest levels in our state. This scandal occurs daily on college campuses and political offices and those in office are using their power to cover it up!
Do you know what that means? It means several people are sitting in a room together and making a conscious decision to collude on the cover-up. To not protect the victims and prosecute the criminals, but to protect the perpetrator. Only in Louisiana. It’s a despicable and disgusting part of our culture in this state and it has to stop. To boot, we have heard other women state that the victims share the responsibility in these sexual harassment and abuse cases. This mindset belongs back in the 1950s. It needs to be brought to light and shown for the ignorance that it is then buried so deeply that we never hear those words uttered again.
The solution? To get power in the hands of the right decision-makers, including center-right women, who will stand up for justice instead of protecting perpetrators. But that can’t happen unless more women run for office. So this is my clarion to all the women of Louisiana…it is time for us all to stand up. Stand up for our sisters, mothers, and daughters. Stand up for our brothers, husbands, fathers, and sons. Those of us who can, must stand up and take extraordinary steps. Amazing steps. Answer the call just as Julia Barnhill Letlow did. As Julia said, we can be full of frustration, anger, or grief for our state and full of hope at the same time. Decide where you fit in the political world and take the step to do more, to get involved, to run for office. Make history! Be extraordinary. Be the next Julia!
Louisiana Women Lead was formed in 2020 to engage more center-right women in politics. Lead’s goal is to increase the number of women elected or appointed to leadership positions in Louisiana by breaking down barriers, create a statewide network for support, and provide tools to women so they have a leg up when running for or being appointed to office. For more information, visit http://www.louisianawomenlead.org.